Everyone wants to make a quick buck. That’s why lotteries, sweepstakes, and television game shows are so popular.
But human greed also means that people will try to cheat their way to their winnings.
Here are ten examples of the biggest sweepstakes, lottery, and game show scandals and scams from around the world.
1. Milan Lotto
One of the biggest lottery scandals ever occurred in Italy.
During the 1990s, a group managed to scam $174 million from the Italian lottery before they were caught.
During that time, lotto games were held twice a week in several major Italian cities, including Milan.
Players picked five numbers, and the winning numbers were drawn from a rotating drum full of numbered metal balls by a group of blindfolded children.
But it turns that a group of lottery officials and a gang of criminals had rigged the game.
The children had been bribed and trained to pick out special balls that had been tampered with.
In some cases, the blindfolds were loosened just enough so the children could make out the numbers.
The children also learned to squint to pick out the really shiny balls that had been treated with a special varnish.
In other cases, balls were frozen or heated so the children could pick out the balls by touch.
Eventually, nine people were arrested in connection with the scandal, including two lottery officials, a policeman, and several people with connections to organized crime.
2. McDonald’s Monopoly
For years, McDonald’s ran an incredibly popular Monopoly game promotion.
Customers would get game pieces from their purchases, which allowed them to win prizes ranging from free food to a million dollars.
Unbeknownst to the company, scammers, led by former cop Jerome Jacobson, rigged the game and “won” $24 million between 1989 and 2001.
Jacobson was the head of security at the company that printed the game pieces.
There was tight security in place but Jacobson was able to circumvent them and got access to the winning pieces.
He would then provide those winning pieces for a cut of the money.
The scheme eventually fell apart when the FBI received an anonymous tip in 2000.
After an investigation, more than 50 people were arrested for their role in the scam.
To counter the bad publicity, McDonalds—who was really a victim here—also ended up paying out $25 million to random customers, including 15 who received $1 million each.
The scandal is the subject of HBO’s documentary miniseries, McMillion$.
3. Irish Sweeps
The Irish Sweepstakes started in 1930, allegedly to fund the many rundown hospitals in Ireland.
Tickets were sold around the world, even though lottery gambling was illegal in most places at the time.
It ended up being one of the country’s biggest scandals.
For more than 50 years, a group of businessmen raked in most of the lottery’s proceeds.
The hospitals did receive a small portion, which by some estimates, was only around 10%.
The rest went to the organizers and their associates through a variety of scams: a large part of the funds raised was written off as undeclared expenses that the organizers pocketed; they also sold fake tickets that raised additional funds; there was the scheme where winning tickets were purchased back for a fraction of the winnings.
The government mostly looked the other way, but whenever someone tried to hold up the annual approval for the lottery, they were reminded of all the jobs that would be lost, both at the hospitals, the lottery and the various businesses that the businessmen who ran the lottery also owned.
The lottery finally closed down in 1987.
4. Dominican Republic Lottery
The Dominican Republic was another country that had a big lottery scandal. In 1998, it came out that the country’s national lottery had been rigged for a decade.
Insiders would arrange the winning numbers to be selected, and would place big bets on those numbers.
They ran the scheme from the late 1980s until a botched televised drawing in 1997 caused authorities to become suspicious.
The insiders are believed to have made more than $7 million in the Dominican Republic, much of which was spent on political campaigns for the Social Christian Reform Party in the early 1990s.
But the group actually made more money from tickets that were sold overseas, in private lotteries held in Haiti, Venezuela, and among Dominican immigrants in New York City that used the same winning numbers.
Some Dominican-run bodegas got suspicious when certain groups would always win and would refuse to pay up, only to find their stores set on fire.
A few murders may also have related to the scam as well.
In the 1950s, quiz shows and game shows were extremely popular on TV.
Stories of an ordinary person appearing on TV and winning a lot of money captured the public’s imagination.
Unfortunately, many of the games were rigged.
One of the most famous examples was the quiz show, Twenty-one.
Two players faced off against each other and answered a series of questions with different point values.
Whoever got the most points, or exactly 21, was the winner. The problem was that the first few shows were a flop, as the contestants barely scored any points.
To increase ratings, the producers found willing contestants that they could provide the answers to ahead of time, and also choreographed their responses.
An investigation into the show occurred when it came out that another game show, Dotto, had been rigged and answers provided to some contestants ahead of time.
And eventually, the scheme was revealed, and the show taken off the air.
The movie, Quiz Show, was based on this scandal.
6. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
The TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, was a huge hit in the United Kingdom.
In September 2001, former British army major, Charles Ingram, answered all the questions correctly to win the £1 million top prize.
Ingram never got his payout. Ingram, his wife, Diana, and another accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, were accused and convicted of cheating on the game – Diana and Whittock would cough when the correct answer was read out.
Producers became suspicious when Ingram, who had already used up two of his three lifelines just to get to £4,000, was able to answer all the questions correctly, especially when his behavior was erratic – he would claim not to have heard of a certain person, but then would suddenly pick that answer, which turned out to be the correct one.
The scandal earned Ingram the nickname of the “coughing major,” and he was forced to resign his position from the Army.
The Ingrams and Whittock have maintained their innocence this entire time.
The scandal is the subject of the miniseries, Quiz.
7. Triple Six Fix
In 1980, a group that included a lottery supervisor (Edward Plevel) and a TV show host (Nick Perry) rigged the Pennsylvania State Lottery and nearly got away with $1.2 million in winnings.
The scandal is known as the Triple Six Fix, named for the winning numbers that night, ‘6-6-6.’
To play the lotto, bettors would pick a 3-digit number between 000 and 999.
The winning numbers would then be chosen from three air-powered machines containing a set of ping-pong balls numbered 0 to 9.
Perry and Plevel rigged the drawing for April 24th.
They used weighted balls for every number except 4 and 6, ensuring that only those two numbers would be selected.
To avoid suspicion, they had friends purchase tickets all around the city with combinations of those two numbers.
The scheme fell apart when underground bookies tipped off a reporter.
One of the shops where hundreds of tickets had been purchased also called in a tip.
The movie, Lucky Numbers, is loosely based on this scandal.
8. China Lottery Loophole
Many lottery scams and scandals involve insiders who rig the game somehow.
But sometimes, someone with no connections whatever can still scam the game. That’s what happened in China in 2005.
Zhao Liqun, who ran three lottery stalls in the Liaoning province, discovered that there was a flaw in the Welfare Lottery “3D” system – for five minutes after the winning numbers were drawn, it was still possible to purchase valid tickets for that draw.
So Zhao would watch the drawing, find out the winning numbers, then purchase the winning tickets.
He would have his friends and neighbors cash out the tickets and bring him the money to avoid suspicion.
Zhao was able to win $3.76 million before the authorities realized that he was taking advantage of this loophole. Unfortunately for Zhao, he was sentenced to life in prison for this scheme, even though he was only taking advantage of a flaw that he had no part in creating.
9. Australian Fund and Virginia Lottery
Sometimes gaming the system does actually pay. In 1992, an Australian syndicate managed to win a $27 million jackpot from the Virginia Lottery, which the state eventually paid out.
Stefan Mandel formed the International Lotto Fund to play big-ticket lottery games around the world by buying enough tickets to cover most, if not all, the possible number combinations.
In the case of the Virginia Lottery, 6 numbers are chosen out of 44, which means that there are more than 7 million possible number combinations.
The syndicate ran out of time and was only able to purchase $5 million in tickets, covering 5 million number combinations.
Luckily, one of their tickets was the winner.
After some initial hesitation, the Virginia Lottery did end up paying the syndicate for their winnings.
The state has since changed the lottery rules so that mass purchases like the one International Lotto Fund made are no longer allowed.
10. Advanced Fee Sweepstakes
A very common form of a sweepstakes scam is one where that asks “winners” of a prize to pay a fee in advance in order to receive that prize.
For the scammers, this can be very lucrative. One scam, in particular, took in more than $11 million.
From 2009 to 2013, Liam Moran, and companies associated with him, sent out more than 3.7 million letters to individuals in 156 countries.
Most of those targeted were over 65 years of age. The letters would claim that the recipient had won a large cash prize, in most cases, more than $2 million.
All they had to do was send in $20 or $30 for processing fees to receive the “guaranteed” prize.
Except that there was no prize.
Buried in the fine print was a disclaimer that they hadn’t actually won anything and would only receive a list of sweepstakes that they can enter.
In most cases, they didn’t even receive that list.
The authorities found that the buried disclaimers were not enough to get Moran and his companies off the hook, and they have since been shut down and ordered to pay back the $11 million that they scammed.